Dark pendulous clouds, pregnant with impending rain, further blackened the sky above me, obscuring the star filled sky. Chill air whipping past me, icy fingers clawing their way through the old cracked leather of my jacket.
Not for the first time I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing riding down the A30 in the middle of the night heading towards Land's End. The ancient vee-twin heart of the beast I was astride purred beneath me, testament to the years of care my dad had lavished upon it, a motorcycle of unrevealed and mysterious make bearing me along at a steady eighty miles an hour.
The task that had brought me out here consumed my mind, and I reviewed once again the events of a scant fourteen hours before......
* * *
It was just after half past ten in the morning that I finally awoke on the party littered floor of my living room. The dank chill hanging in the air reminded me of how close winter's dismal reign of snow and ice was, and I shivered. The silence ringing in my ears told me no-body else had stayed over last night, which meant clearing up was to be my joyful task, again. It was clear to me that some sort of rodent must have crawled into my mouth at some point during my alcohol fuelled slumber and deposited its droppings on my tongue. There could be no other explanation for the foul taste in my mouth,
Groaning theatrically, despite there being no audience but me, I gingerly got up and picked my way carefully through the plethora of ragged cardboard boxes that constantly threatened to spill their treasure of spare motorcycle parts all over the floor, empty scotch and beer bottles littering the wasteland of my carpet, and stumbled into the tiny toilet cubicle just in time to heave up the rebellious contents of whatever I had placed in my stomach the night before. Ten minutes later, I could not kid myself I was feeling better, and no amount of fantasy imagination could conjure up a breakfast better than tomato puree and stale cornflakes, all that remained in my food store. Black coffee would have to do.
As I flopped down on my ragged sofa, just considering the thought of writing the day off and going to bed, my mobile phone suddenly blared causing me to start. I succeeded in catching most of the scalding contents of my coffee mug neatly in my groin.
With a howl that would have put a Zulu warrior to shame I leapt into the air, and promptly, with a consummate sense of grace, fell over the coffee table, rapping my shins on the oak surface as I did so. Always one with a sense for the artistic moment, I completed the complicated stunt with a stunningly accurate headbutt to the half-built motorcycle engine behind the sofa.
I snatched up the screaming block from its whining resting place.
"WHAAAAT!" I screamed into it.
‘Mr Bjornson? David Bjornson?’ replied a cultured lady's voice.
“Possibly. Who wants to know?”
“My name is Vivian Lake, I work for Sumerlands Solicitors.”
My dry mouth went drier, and the searing pain of my coffee-soaked groin, that had been vying with my hangover to decide the winner of most uncomfortable feel of the day, faded in a dull sense of panic. What had I done now?
“Er, how can I help, Miss Green.” Non-descript, bland, that was going to be my strategy for this one.
‘It’s your father, Mr Bjornson, he…’
I cut her off. ‘Thank you, Miss Green. I don’t want to discuss my father. He and I went our separate ways some years ago. I’m not interested in anything he has to say.’
‘Mr Bjornson, I’m so sorry. Your father died last night.’
She was still talking, but I could no longer hear. A coldness filled my chest. How could my dad be dead? He was the strongest, most cantankerous, bear of a man. He couldn’t be dead.
‘Mr Bjornson? Mr Bjornson? David, are you still there?’
Her voice cut through the noise in my head.
‘Yes, I’m still here.’
‘I know this must come as a shock to you. Your father has been ill for some time and he engaged us to try and find you. He wanted very badly to re-connect with you, but we have had a tough time trying to track you down. Unfortunately, we received your contact details yesterday, but could not get hold of you.’
Yesterday? Yesterday was null time, I was partying from the day before and had gone straight through. My phone could have been anywhere in the flat.
‘Too late then,’ I whispered, ‘He was too late my entire life.’
‘Mr Bjornson, your father was quite desperate at the end. He needed to tell you something of great importance to him, something very urgent.’
I frowned, ‘What could he have had to say to me? Too late now.’
‘He wanted you to have something. A gift. It is being delivered to your address this morning.’
‘I don’t want anything from…’, but she cut me off.
‘Mr Bjornson, it is not too late. Take the Gift’, and she hung up.
I didn’t even have time to mouth the obscenity that rose to my lips, because of the hammering on my front door. The delivery men were polite but firm. Sign the receipt, take the keys. I stumbled down the narrow set of stairs after them, and out through the front door into the watery late autumn sunshine. I blinked through watering eyes even so, the last 48 hours had been spent behind closed curtains and even this level of light was almost unbearable. The delivery van was already moving off into the traffic heavy street, the silvery keys held stupidly in one hand as my vision slowly adjusted.
Parked carefully on the pavement was a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle, but my father’s bike. A magnificent silver-grey machine, lowered seat rails, huge vee-twin engine, all glittering chrome and steel. I have always had motorcycles. My current ride was a 1959 Royal Enfield Constellation, currently residing in bits in the flat above. It might be a proud title to impress your friends with down the pub, but to me it just meant 700cc of stubborn obstinacy.
Typically whenever I rode the bike it would start to rain as soon as I stepped out of the door, and also typically the bike would always refuse to start on a kick. The local kids were used to watching this ritual and would gather in order to be entertained by the enactment of my daily ritual involving the wheezing, cursing, attempt to bump start it up and down the street.
This bike was different though. Sleek and dangerous looking. I remembered my father riding it away from us the last night I saw him. He and my mum had been arguing bitterly about something. I remember him shouting hoarsely,
‘There isn’t a choice!’
And her cold retort, ‘Then go.’ A finality.
Her thin arms curling around my shoulder as he cast a despairing look back at us, and then rode away. I watched as long as I could, his tail-light slowly dwindling into the distance. Then she led me back into the house. That was the last time I had any contact with him until now. I had only been 11 years old.
I ran my hands over the seat and up across the petrol tank. No badges or decals advertised its make. Sighing heavily I turned to go back inside, which is when I noticed the data fob on the key ring.
Firing up my old laptop took its usual interminable time as the machine whirred and clunked its way into flickering life. Plugging the data fob in, I watched with a strange sense of eagerness as the contents revealed themselves. There was a only one item, a video folder. With a trembling finger, I pressed play.
The images were not what I expected. My dad had always seemed to me to be such a large man, robust and sturdy, that to see him like this was something of a shock. He looked so old. The once black beard now ghost white, his curling long hair replaced by a heavily balding pate. His body looked drained and shrunken, lost in the clinical expanse of his hospital bed, tubes sprouting obscenely from his nose and wrists, invading his dignity. Black wires fixed greedily to his arms and chest, sucking the life from him and displaying it on green neon screens for all the world to see in the little humming boxes that stood as ominous sentinels by the side of the bed.
His still startlingly blue eyes flickered open.
"Bastards." he growled, "You see what they've done to me? Bastards!"
‘Hello boy. Long time no see.’
His voice was weak, wheezing, the vitality fled from his racked body.
‘I wanted to find you, to try and explain, but I think they are going to be too late. So I asked them to record this…just in case. If you’re watching this, then I am dead, and I didn’t get to see you. I can’t tell you how sad that makes me.
You and your mum were the greatest joys in my life. I didn’t want to lose either of you, and leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.’
Tears were rolling down his face as he spoke, warring emotions tumbling inside of me as I listened, transfixed by his voice.
‘My life has never been my own. You won’t remember my dad, he was lost in the War, but when he died, his burden became mine, and I am so sorry, because that burden will now become yours.’
I pressed the pause button, and rewound.
‘..that burden will now become yours.’
What was he talking about? I know grandad was killed fighting sometime during the 1980s, but I don’t know in which conflict. Dad never talked about it. I remember how grim he became after grandad’s death, and the frequency with which he had to be away from home thereafter. What, War?
My finger touched the play button again.
‘I have wanted to reach out to you for so long. When your mum died, I was devastated and I knew you would be too. But I couldn’t come to you, it would have been too dangerous. For you. To you. I needed to keep your existence a secret for as long as possible, but they found a way to get to me.’
He winced as he adjusted his body, his face grey with pain.
‘So, I am here. David, you have a choice now. It is a choice which will change everything for you, or nothing. It is a choice which will bring us back together, or not. Only you can make that decision. But please, hear me out…’
And then he told me a story.
* * *
I was well into the foot of Cornwall, just passing the village of Sennen, winging my way through the winding, twisting lanes, gloriously free of traffic at this time in the morning. The headlamp cut through the dark like a sword as I powered the strange silver/grey machine along, the heady unseasonal smells of fresh cut grass and rose bay willow herb blending with the rich metallic smell of hot oil riding on the night air as the hedgerows flashed past.
And then I was there, Land's End.
A full moon shone dispassionately down creating a fantastic montage of eerie shadows in the dark crevices of the rocky cliffs. As dad had instructed, I stood and waited while the moon waned, presaging the advent of a slate grey pre-dawn light.
The burning disc of the new born sun rose slowly and majestically behind me, casting its clean rays to pierce the shadows and chase the darkness away. The engine rumbled as I kicked the 'bike into life, revving its mighty heart, and as the sun came into full view, I pushed the gear lever down and dumped the clutch, throwing myself back as the bike lurched off the crumbling cliff edge, tumbling down towards the surging, patiently waiting waves.
But just before the doomed machine entered the water it was caught in a sudden shaft of sunlight that made it blaze with a brilliant fire, and for a moment, I could have sworn that it wasn't a 'bike at all, but a sword, a shining sword, tumbling down end over end, a hand reaching up from the waves, and then it was gone, lost in a silver misted splash.
Now I am down on the beach, the rising sun warming my back, the soft sand shifting beneath me. The Choice is made. My father and I will be one, once more. I will see him again.
The sword rises silently from the gentle waves, and my hand reaches out to grasp it…